In 2014, the Fourth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals struck down a ruling that banned gay marriage. This ruling was then presented to the Supreme Court for review; however, the Court denied review. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit’s opinion holding that a ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional became binding precedent for North Carolina, which is in the Fourth Circuit. As a result, same-sex marriage became legally recognized in North Carolina on October 10, 2014. Therefore, the rights and privileges of marriage were made available to same-sex married couples.
These rights and privileges include, but are not limited to:
- The right to inherit from your spouse (even if your spouse does not have a will).
- The right to make a claim for equitable distribution and alimony upon separation from your spouse.
- The right to file taxes as a married couple (married filing jointly or married filing separately).
- The right to divorce. Before North Carolina recognized gay marriage, same-sex couples married in another state were unable to get divorced in North Carolina.
Despite the fact that gay marriage is now legally recognized in North Carolina and throughout the United States, there is a lack of clarity surrounding our state’s laws related to domestic issues and same-sex couples. In addition, because North Carolina so recently began recognizing same-sex marriages, there is little relevant case law surrounding the changes in the marriage equality landscape. Consequently, same-sex couples still face challenges in securing certain legal protections.
Below is more information about various family law issues as it relates to same-sex married and unmarried couples.